Uttar pradesh

U.P. Assembly polls | Polarisation suits both BJP and SP to consolidate vote bases, says Priyanka Gandhi

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. File

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. File

Alleging that polarisation suits both the BJP and the SP to consolidate their vote bases in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday said the ruling party may end up being the largest beneficiary of this divisive rhetoric and therefore people need to be given a choice of another kind of politics that doesn’t divide society on religious or caste lines.

Citing that farm laws and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident caused “immense pain” to farmers, she also said the government’s “indifference’’ and “hostile” approach towards the farmers will play an important part in determining the outcome of the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh’s western belt.

In an exclusive interview to PTI , Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said her party will take a call on whether to forge a post-poll alliance once the election results are out and if and when such a situation should arise.

With her party going to the polls with a focus on women and announcing that it will give 40 per cent of tickets to them, she said women are 50 per cent of the population and if they consolidate into a political and electoral force by recognising their own value and strength in political terms, they can change the politics of our nation.

Key issues in UP Polls

Asked about the key issues in Uttar Pradesh polls and whether the farm bills and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident will have an impact, she said different political parties are highlighting different issues, some of these are divisive and intended to polarise the debate along religious or caste lines.

“It is a reality of politics in UP that elections are fought and often won in this manner but I firmly believe that this has to change. Elections must be fought on issues of development — employment, job creation, health services, education -- these should be central to our discussion and debate,” she asserted.

“The Congress in Uttar Pradesh is working on a positive and progressive agenda,” Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said, adding that “we have refused to engage in a negative discourse”.

As far as the farm bills and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident are concerned, they have been a source of “immense pain” to farmers across the state but especially in western Uttar Pradesh, she said.

“I do believe that the government’s indifference, its hostile and autocratic approach towards the farmers who were protesting and those who lost their lives, will play an important part in determining the outcome of the elections in the western belt,” Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said.

The Centre repealed the three farm laws last year after a nearly year-long protest by farmers, including from western UP, who had camped at the borders of Delhi, demanding their repeal. Also, eight persons, including four farmers, were killed during a farmers’ protest on October 3 in Lakhimpur Kheri.

Plans to counter polarisation

On divisive rhetoric and how her party plans to counter polarisation, Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said she feels that at some level, whether it is the “polarising force” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Samajwadi Party (SP), it serves the same purpose — it suits both these parties as it consolidates their vote bases.

“Ultimately, I feel the largest beneficiary of this polarisation may end up being the BJP. In order to stop the BJP actually, you need a party that changes the discourse rather than positing another pole for polarising it further,” she said, in an apparent swipe at the SP.

The answer to this kind of politics lies in refocusing the agenda on development, she added.

Her remarks come days after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath stated that the Assembly polls in the state will be about ‘80% vs 20%’, evoking a sharp response from the Opposition that accused him of attempting to polarise the electorate. Muslims constitute around 20% of the state’s population.

BJP leaders have been accused of raising issues such as the Ram Temple and Kashi Vishwanath temple to polarise voters. The saffron party, in turn, has hit out at the Akhilesh Yadav-led party SP of invoking Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Pakistan to vitiate the discourse.

Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said people are suffering and they have to be made to connect this suffering to the lack of governance.

“Event management is not the same as effective governance. People have to be made to understand that, and demand good governance. Despite the crores it spends on advertising itself as one of the leading state governments in India, the truth is that the BJP government in UP does not know how to govern,” she alleged.

“Fundamentally, it has allowed the structures that sustain governance and development to be taken over by mafias and destroyed. It has done virtually nothing to build infrastructure, to improve education and healthcare, to provide jobs and reduce the massive hit that small industries and businesses have taken post-Corona,” Priyanka Gandhi said.

Stressing that people have to be shown that there is a choice, Priyanka Gandhi said another kind of politics is possible, and it is more beneficial to them than the politics of division which only benefits certain political parties.

On her party making a strong pitch for women in the polls and basing the campaign on it, the Congress general secretary said she believes that women should vote as a separate political entity and this is a beginning in that direction.

“They are 50% of the population, yet they are hugely under-represented in the political space. If they consolidate into a political and electoral force by recognising their own value and strength in political terms — they can change the politics of our nation,” she said.

Priyanka on Adityanath fielded from Gorakhpur

Days after the BJP fielded Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from his pocket borough of Gorakhpur for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said the move indicated that the BJP leadership is attempting to "cut him to size" as in an "autocratic system like theirs, there can only be one supreme leader".

The BJP had on January 15 fielded Adityanath from Gorakhpur Urban seat, a decision that had put to rest speculation that he may contest from Ayodhya, as the five-time Lok Sabha MP enters the state poll fray for the first time from his home turf.

Asked about her comments on the BJP fielding Adityanath from his home turf Gorakhpur, Priyanka Gandhi said, "Looks to me like his leadership is attempting to cut him to size. It's an open secret that they have been wanting to do so for sometime." "Their internal pushes and pulls are beginning to reveal themselves in public now. I suppose in an autocratic system like theirs, there can only be one supreme leader," the Congress general secretary said.

Ayodhya and Mathura along with his traditional constituency Gorakhpur, which he has represented in Lok Sabha a number of times, had been seen as the most likely seat of choice for Adityanath.

Ms. Priyanka Gandhi also attacked the Adityanath government for the handling of the COVID pandemic, especially of the second wave, alleging that it failed to protect people, and provide them with health facilities, oxygen, medication and hospital beds.

"Even worse was the fact that while failing to do all of this it acted as an aggressor towards the public and those providing health services. Whether it was the 'asha bahus' who risked their lives to help others or doctors, nurses and health care professionals; instead of incentivising and supporting them the government created an atmosphere of fear," she alleged.

The BJP government's efforts were focussed on covering up the truth rather than saving lives, she alleged, adding that this compounded the problem because people could not even appeal for help while enduring the most terrifying and tragic circumstances.

"Having said that, I cannot say how deeply this will affect the upcoming elections — people tend to put tragedies behind them and move forward. However, I feel that a government must be held accountable for its actions," the Congress leader said.

"When so many lives are lost and people go through so much suffering, it should not be brushed under the carpet. It is up to us as a people to demand accountability from those in power. This is a fundamental aspect of democracy," Ms. Priyanka Gandhi asserted.

On her party making a strong pitch for women in the polls and basing its campaign on it, she said the purpose of giving the Unnao rape victim's mother a ticket to fight the election is to convey a very direct message — the person who destroyed her family could do so and get away with it because he was an MLA, he had political power, and "we are enabling her to take that very same power, become an MLA, and use her power to rebuild her life and help others".

"The same goes for others like her who have genuinely struggled for the rights of their community, whether it is Poonam Pandey, the 'asha bahu' who was thrashed by the Yogi government just for demanding to be heard, or Ramraj Gond who led the struggle of the people of Umbha after the heinous massacre that took place with the collusion of the government and police in their village," she said.

Political power rightfully belongs to them and not to the mafias and criminals whom the government "protects", Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said, adding that her party is offering people such as Pandey and Gond the opportunity to claim it and use it to do good.

Asked about the importance of social media in the polls amid Covid restrictions and whether it gives the BJP an advantage, Priyanka Gandhi said it certainly does give the BJP a certain advantage as they have the most resource rich and elaborate social media machinery.

"I believe the Samajwadi Party has made an appeal to the EC in this regard already. But why should we be daunted by this? If we use it intelligently, we can meet the challenge too," she asserted.

"On our part, we have already switched focus to our door-to-door campaign and amplified it. We have also converted all our women’s townhalls and other events into online events," Priyanka Gandhi said.

On the ground, she said, the party is doing small chaupals, using videos and other tools to spread its message.

The party's organisation is enthused and has been working relentlessly while adhering to all the Covid protocols, Ms. Priyanka Gandhi said.

Polling for the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly is scheduled to be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7 and the votes will be counted on March 10.

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Printable version | May 28, 2022 10:19:03 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly/up-assembly-polls-polarisation-suits-both-bjp-and-sp-to-consolidate-vote-bases-says-priyanka-gandhi/article38323918.ece